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Back to Euro-Pessimism? A Jeremiad Too Fond of Gloom and Doom

In This Review

A Grand Illusion? An Essay On Europe

By Tony Judt
Hill And Wang, 1996
142 pp. $20.00

The future of the European Union is anything but clear. Three main tasks were to be undertaken after the Maastricht treaty came into effect: building a European Monetary Union (EMU) with a central bank and a single currency, engaging in constitutional reform to simplify (and perhaps democratize) the overcomplicated institutional system, and enlarging the union to include new members. All three projects have run into difficulties. Understanding why requires both analytical clarity and descriptive complexity (at times EU politics remind one of the titles of the great French cartoonist Semp‚'s first two books: Rien n'est Simple and Tout se Complique). Tony Judt's new book provides the analytical clarity that can always be expected of him, but falls short when it comes to descriptive complexity.

Judt has always been a thought-provoking, incisive, even combative historian. His writings have dealt with both Eastern Europe and French intellectual and political history. Some of them are masterpieces of debunking -- often justified, occasionally unfair, and always interesting. This essay on the past and the prospects of the European Union, based on three lectures Judt gave at the Johns Hopkins Center in Bologna under the auspices of The New York Review of Books and publisher Hill and Wang, displays all of his characteristic virtues, and some of his defects.

"British -- by nationality if not by residence," Judt nevertheless declares himself "enthusiastically European." But he applies the French dictum: qui aime bien, chftie bien. He concludes that a "truly united Europe" is so unlikely that it would be "unwise and self-defeating to insist upon it." In his view, "'Europe' is more than a geographical notion but less than an answer," and has become "little more than the politically correct way to paper over local difficulties, as though the mere invocation of the promise of Europe could substitute for solving problems and crises that really affect the place." While any skeptical student of the EU would agree with the main lines and conclusions of his provocative

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